Posts Tagged ‘Jazz’

Bill Orcutt on James Blood Ulmer – Odyssey

This week I’ve got a two-parter Hidden Gems that focuses on a couple of underground legends. In anticipation of the release of their latest collaboration, Brace Up!, both Bill Orcutt and Chris Corsano have contributed picks to the series. I’m starting here with Orcutt, whose singular guitar style defies all schools of tradition. As such, he gravitates to a guitarist who’d been flouting conventions long before him and it seems fitting that Bill has payed tribute to the great James Blood Ulmer here. Orcutt has built an enviable catalog of works going back to his ’90s work with the seminal Harry Pussy and on through collaborations with Alan Bishop, Michael Morley, Circuit des Yeux and Loren Connors. Check below for how Ulmer’s work came into the life of Orcutt and how Odyssey impacted his own musical journey.

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Goatman on Robert Fripp / Carlos Garnett

When Goat’s World Music found its way out I was immediately smitten, and certainly not alone it would seem. The album has marked many lists over the years and serves as the jumping off point for Goat’s dense catalog of borderless psychedelia. Now, with a solo album of Afro-funk rhythms and psych-folk freakouts of his own on the schedule I asked the band’s shrouded Goatman to weigh in on some overlooked fodder from the past. While the feature usually focuses on one album, there are, in fact, no rules to Hidden Gems. With that Goatman unearthed two gems from his past that he found intrinsically linked in space and time and by proximity of discovery. With that in mind he explores the impact of Robert Fripp’s League of Gentlemen and Carlos Garnett’s Black Love.

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Szun Waves – “Constellation”

Enter an engrossing new video from jazz-psych combo Szun Waves. The trio, consisting of producer Luke Abbot, drummer Laurence Pike (PVT) and composer Jack Wyllie (Portico), unleashes an enveloping track of glistening tones and majestic brass from their upcoming LP on LEAF. The accompanying video, directed by Sam Wiehl, forms a xeroxed wonderland in muted tones and mutable shapes that reads like microscopic images set to work by the Joshua Light Show. The video’s effects were created with 3D models, paints, solvents, and air fresheners but the results are nothing short of otherworldly. If this is just a taste of the album, I definitely want to sink into this wholesale. Keep an eye out for New Hymn To Freedom in August.

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Sunwatchers

New York’s Sunwatchers straddle the line between psych and jazz with expert precision, but that’s not to say that they’re keeping the line neat between the two. The band’s latest record, II, flows with the air of free jazz, picking up on the skronk of Ayler and the eclectic mayhem of later, electric Miles. The first couple of tracks on the album pin themselves to the genre rather well, but as they progress into the groove and distortion laden “Silent Boogie” it becomes clear that this record is also a top tier face-melter that’s itching to topple into the psychedelic pit. They wander between their two poles quickly and seamlessly so that the listener never quite knows where a song will take them. It makes for an album that’s as dizzying as it is freeing.

Despite being a purely instrumental endeavor, its impossible to mention Sunwatchers without bringing up politics. The band has long been advocates for social change, equality and tolerance – going so far as to donate their album sales to charity. This time around they’ve taken their band crest/mission statement, long included in some form in their artwork, and put it on the cover, front and center. It cements their standing as a musical force for change and, while some might see it as trending towards a year of public statements said for applause with little backup, the donation of the proceeds to prison abolitionist charities seems like the public is just catching up to them.

Besides, if this year needs a sound it might be the furious skronk and bent metal n’ feedback wail of Sunwatchers. Sometimes a good scream into the void and a knotted riff comedown is the only recourse to feeling powerless on a daily basis. If that kind of catharsis sounds appealing then I’d wholeheartedly recommend a few spins ‘round with Sunwatches on the speakers. II only crystallizes the band’s hurricane in a bottle sound and repurposes it for the common good.



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Greg Fox

So the backstory on this one has to do with Fox rigging up software (via Sunhouse) that reacts to to his drumming, breathing the life from his motion into virtual instrumentation. Frankly, we’re pretty much all out of our depth on the physics here, but the emotional response is much further reaching and harder felt. The Gradual Progression nods to the free flowing works of Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders while tugging at the the slightly more reigned moments of Sun Ra, but Fox doesn’t merely paint by erratic numbers in the shades of his heroes – he updates the free jazz workbook with a few moves that are distinctly his own.

Where “Catching an L” hums with the same sax energy that would be roundly reminiscent of another age of dissocitative jazz, Fox’s beats crunch with a sound that plays to his post-rock connections, bludgeoning with precision and bite. And that song actually stands as an outlier of defined pound among an album riddled with drumstick bullet holes and cascades of rhythmic ripple that fling themselves far afield of anything that feels moored to solid ground in the stream of consciousness. Fox’s pieces aren’t just complicated drum primers for NYU undergrads looking to notch their way into a teacher’s field of vision. Fox wields rhythm and his associated action painted tones with a scientists aim and an artist’s heart.

The album is dazzlingly complex, but never suffers from feeling weighted down in technology. Far from it, the album’s synth tones breath with wonder worthy of OMNI documentaries, the percussion – even when electronically generated – tumbles in ecstatic bursts that feel alive with human emotion, struggling to contain the joy and pain that Fox channels to his chosen surface. In The Gradual Procession, Fox has created a modern mountain of emotional work that transcends the touchy tags of free jazz and experimental electronic to become simply essential listening.




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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

So, three albums down, two to go if we’re keeping score in 2017. I’d opted out of the running commentary surrounding Murder of the Universe, ostensibly a real turning point for the band from a press saturation point. Now, its not that I had deep fundamental issues with the album, but if you’ve been taking the full tour as I have all these years, MOTU had all the hallmarks their best work, but that was as much to its credit as it was the problem. If you’ve heard the canon, you’ve got the idea. They saturated that one with the time change whiplash of their previous heavy psych monsters Mindfuzz, Microtonal Banana, and Nonagon. They even brought in a narrative voice-over in the spirit of Eyes Like The Sky. For a band that usually doesn’t cease to amaze, they seemed to have locked into some safe harbors on that one.

Now that makes their latest, Sketches of Brunswick East, all the more satisfying. The album, conceived collaboration with Mild High Club’s Alex Brettin, sees the band back off their breakneck psych mode, providing a similar respite on par with Paper Mâché Dream Balloon. Where that album went acoustic, this one delves into a lush jazz fusion that winks with the title’s play on Sketches of Spain but winds up lodged much further into the ’70s models of jazz-psych. The luxurious setting here lets the band sink into a completely new direction, embracing their slower jams and letting the groove drive them more than the mania.

I’ve always had a love for the band’s softer, silkier work, and after a low key show upstate NY a few years back that leaned heavily on that material (think “Stressin,” “Sleepwalker,” “Hot Water,” “Slow Jam 1”), its felt clear that they were also itching to embrace that direction. The album is all about vibe, playing up bass, hooking in Brettin’s beats to tone down their usual tornado of double drums, and letting Ambrose lay the flute on thick. This is the kind of album I look forward to from the band. It’s the kind that indulges and I’m all about their indulgence – want to keep things burning the psych core, make it microtonal, make it acoustic, learn the oboe, go jazz funk. With five in a year, they can’t all lean on the psychedelic warlord principles that shaped Nonagon Infinity. That’s a high water mark for sure, but Sketches proves that they can’t be backed into a corner.



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Wand’s Cory Hanson on Miles Davis – Get Up With It

There have been many bands that I’ve seen evolve here at RSTB, and with varying results, for sure. Wand’s evolution from fuzzbomb psych stewards to their current incarnation as archivists of alternative’s more ambitious corners is a journey that’s been exciting to experience from a listener’s vantage. I’d had a missed connection with the band’s Cory Hanson when he ventured into psych-folk for a solo endeavor last year on Drag City, but this time around the fates have aligned to get in a Gems feature on the verge of the release of their fourth album, Plum. For the uninitiated, Hidden Gems explores an album that the artist finds underrepresented in the canon of popular culture – the kind that falls through the cracks and deserves a shining light. Here Cory Hanson explores Miles Davis’ 1974 double album Get Up With It, explaining how it came into his life and how it’s had an effect on his own songwriting.

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Swimming In Bengal

Sacramento psych outfit Swimming in Bengal conjure up some heavy Sun City Girls vibes, while delving into the heart of Eastern psych on their latest album for Lugubrious Audio / Baggage Claim. The record wraps carpets of drone around improvisations built for sax, flute, harmonium, gourd guitar, and scattered shards of percussive debris. Its easy to play at creating psych that wanders into the exotic, try on a few fancy hats and pretend that non-Western music carries the only chords that “speak to you,” but SIB seem to have spent a bit more time laying into the meat that supports carrying the mantle here.

Multi-instrumentalist Tony Passarell worked with Danish-Congolese saxophonist and composer John Tchicai, and has gone on to build a unit of players that admirably blend the drive of European free-jazz, South Asian traditional tones, drone and good ole flame roasted psych. Garden of Idle Hands builds as an album, first and foremost, each track a cracked cobble stone in its craggy and crusted structure. The band has a way of imparting a worn feeling of age, timeless and turbulent to their work and as such there are few moments in the record that feel like the were laid to tape in 2016. They dart through worn street tapes picked up at adhoc Indian markets, ’60s jazz flare ups and subsequent ’70s jazz infatuations with stronger connections to non-American sounds. While it may sound on paper that the band is reaching to too many corners simultaneously, in the headphones is sounds like they may have struck just the right balance.


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Library of Babel

From the esteemed, if often overlooked Blue Tapes label, Library of Babel have released a collection of pieces for guitar, cello and double bass that eschews the more overtly dissonant elements that sometimes get pinned to the label’s catalog. The release isn’t by any means easily digestible, far from it, but it is structured and that makes it unique among some of its peers. Shane Parish leads the Asheville unit through an album that bumps against neo-classical, jazz and fingerpicked folk alike, drop-zoning into a kind of pastoral thrum that flickers like dusty film over the course of their eponymous album. The record takes on an anthropological quality, as if these are forgotten folk songs from a people who value the clash of strings to pristine pluck and crisp melody, letting the din reflect their own turmoil.

Parish’s guitar rattles and hisses, clatters like loose bones against strings, then winds itself back into a melodic whirlpool of notes while the cello and bass beneath him hum their own tempests, mostly melancholy though oftentimes breaking into death rattles of their own. There’s cinematic vein in Library of Babel and its narrative seems to rise from parched fields, patchy forests and mud flats flecked with dead fish and too little rain. There’s something that evokes the foothills of the American South in Parish’s work, but in a very modern sense, the fates of the rusted hulls of communities forgotten, plastered in stark black and white photos full of hard looks. Whether this is intentional or not remains to be seen, but its a hardscrabble feeling of want that comes seeping from the speakers over these thirty minutes. This is a standout release on a label that already has some gems from Katie Gately, Mats Gustafsson and Tashi Dorji in their stable.


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Mortitz Von Oswald Trio

There’s been no lack of love for Von Oswald’s trio here at RSTB but with this new chapter of the band he knocks an already exemplary band into a new level. Replacing original drummer with current touring drummer and legend in his own right, Tony Allen, the new album from the trio takes off from the group’s usual stomping grounds of electronically bent jazz and dub then infects it with flecks of Afrobeat propulsion and synth darkness in a way that feels like the missing ingredients all along. Sounding Lines plays with space and rhythm. MVO Trio has always pushed forward the boundaries of their respective genres but here they delve headlong into a shadowy cave of echoes that tumble beats in all directions, synths that seek only to haunt and a kind of crushing heaviness that’s as threatening as a coronary. Perhaps not one for the coming summer sun but when that swelter starts to bubble up from the soil itself, Sounding Lines will feel like just the answer.



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